Losing the contents of the clipboard on a Mac, or any operating system for that matter is undoubtedly annoying. It may also be devastating, depending on how crucial and long the text was. That’s just the base functionality built into Apple’s operating system. Many users employ third-party applications that enhance clipboard functionality, such as providing the ability to save images, advanced formatting, and even copy-paste across different operating systems. With all that said, users unquestionably must take action as soon as possible if they are ever to see the copied content again. That’s where we come in with instructions to recover clipboard history on a Mac machine. Let’s start.
1. Recover clipboard history on Mac by default
We want to preface all this by saying the built-in clipboard feature on Mac is rudimentary. It comes with no bells or whistles that would let you see the history, which is something lots of users dislike. To clarify, due to the nature of the temporary memory that can preserve only one “item” at any time, what you seek is impossible. Inbuilt clipboard functionality only permits you to see the last bit of text you copied. What this means is that you can copy a text (Command + C) and paste it (Command + V). However, as soon as you copy a new letter, word, sentence, paragraph, or page, the last saved clipboard item is permanently erased.
This is a huge downside, and the reason many people seek alternatives mentioned in method 3. Thus, the only advice we can offer you is to find the source, copy it again, and don’t copy anything afterward. Though the clipboard is virtual and ever-present when the Mac machine is booted, Apple decided to add a nifty user interface window that shows the last copied entry. You can find it in the Finder menu in the top corner, after going to Edit → Show Clipboard. You’ll see a text window akin to notes with the latest item you copied, regardless of length.
Utilize Universal Clipboard for Apple devices
Another thing Apple Mac users may be aware of is Universal Clipboard. This feature lets you copy content on one device, then, through the power of syncing over iCloud, paste it onto another. For this to work, you must ensure:
- Both devices are signed in to the same iCloud account
- Both devices are connected to an identical Wi-Fi network
- You enabled Bluetooth on devices you want to link
With that in mind, if the clipboard is empty on one, there’s a chance it may exist on other devices. At this time, you can use Mac, iPad, or iPhone. Alternatively, the source may be available on that operating system, letting you paste it on your Mac effortlessly.
Using the built-in Undo function on Mac (Risky alternative)
Some users desperate to reach the content using any means possible suggest employing the “Undo” method. First, make sure to save a copy of your current work. Then, press Command + Z to go a step backward. Repeat this slowly until you reach the time you pasted content to the application or copied the text you later deleted. Save the newly restored text, then either restore the saved version or continue pressing Command + Shift + Z to Redo actions one by one until you reach the latest saved state.
2. Check the history of the secret Mac clipboard
As you can guess, the problem we described above has been plaguing Mac users for years. Over time, those who were annoyed, but not to the point of installing third-party solutions, discovered a solution many call “secret secondary clipboard” on Mac. Now, this is more of an additional technique rather than a solution. Essentially, it lets you have a second clipboard that doesn’t erase the contents of the primary one. It also works a tad differently, as it forces you to cut text (which you can instantly get back using Undo) by pressing Command + K and paste it with Control + Y. This will bypass the primary clipboard and let you keep a backup if you accidentally copy something else.
3. Using a clipboard manager to restore history on Mac
We’re sure you’re exasperated at this point since the built-in functions just don’t cut it. You’re not alone—clipboard manager applications have been around for a long time. Hence, there’s an abundance of options to consider, and the vast majority are imperceptibly heavier on your resources. More precisely, these applications will remain in the background and collect everything you copy, which we feel is what Apple should’ve made possible from the get-go. We neither have an affiliation with developers nor have a preference. However, to demonstrate how this works, we’ll use the most popular but simplest option. Here’s an example of how clipboard managers work on Mac:
- Download and install a suitable application. We’ll use Copy Clip on the Mac App Store.
- After installation, open the Finder menu.
- Start doing your work as usual—the application will record and store everything you copy.
- When you need to recover Mac clipboard history, look for a paper clip icon in the upper right corner.
- Click it, and you’ll see a list of the 10 latest things you copied. If you need an older item, use the search bar at the top of the menu.
- Click any item and a pop-up window with full text opens.
- Optional. Go to Preferences… and configure how many clippings will be displayed and remembered.